It would be easy to classify Tracy Young as another of L.A.‘s myriad “writer-performer-directors,” since she’s won numerous awards and her work spans all three disciplines. But when we meet at the Griffith Observatory on a chilly Wednesday afternoon, it quickly becomes clear that she is, above all else, a director. With the observatory closed for renovations, the area is sparsely populated, the parking lot a vacant stretch of concrete. Just a few tourists wander the grounds. As we search for a place to sit, warming our hands with steaming lattes, Young surveys the vista as if it were a theater, her theater. “How about a more open space . . .” she says. The wind whips through the covered coffee stand, rattling the empty chairs. “An interesting backdrop, a bench or — oh, over there . . .” Her suggestions are gentle but insistent, and, in a plain brown turtleneck, wool slacks and sensible shoes, Young is earthy and open, at once disarming and sharply intelligent. When, finally, we settle onto the steps of the observatory, she climbs atop a concrete block, crosses her legs and breathes deeply, satisfied with her blocking.
Though she subtly tries to direct our conversation as well, Young‘s willing to talk about almost anything — except, of course, Tim Robbins. Young spent the past 14 years deeply entrenched in almost every aspect of Robbins’ theater company, the Actors‘ Gang, and recently cut away to start her own performance venture; the break was less than . . . “fluid,” she says. “There was a lot of stuff that went down at the Gang in 2000. So in the wake of that, in the wake of Tim coming back and being installed as artistic director, I left the company,” she says. “It just wasn’t the place for me anymore.” End of conversation.
But Young doesn‘t shy away from much else — either in person or in her work. “I think I’ve got a really healthy appreciation of some good old-time entertainment values, but I also like to get in people‘s faces and be confrontational, explore dirty little areas of things that people don’t necessarily want to look at.” In her 1992 musical play, Hysteria, she addressed modern-day beauty myths, the rise of the Western medical profession and the horrors associated with women‘s gynecological issues in the Victorian era. And in her “drug fantasia,” Euphoria, she split open the topic of humankind’s relationship to drugs. “I tend to be drawn to large-canvas topics: having your ovaries removed by Victorian doctors, drug addiction, Mormon murders, child abuse in Grimms‘ fairy tales — you know, all that stuff.”
Now, after having climbed to a place of prominence in the L.A. theater world and having carved a loose niche for herself as a philosophical and somewhat post-feminist director (she was the Actors’ Gang‘s first woman director), Young is using what she’s learned from theater artist and longtime inspiration Anne Bogart, whom she calls a “contemporary visionary,” and elements of the commedia dell‘arte that she studied at the Gang, to strike out on her own. She’ll be directing a new piece she wrote, Dreamplay, through the yet-unnamed company she co-founded with partner Chris Wells. “It‘s definitely something we’re intentionally taking very slowly, keeping very small,” she says. “It‘s not strictly a theater company. We’re interested in performance and actual theatrical events, but we‘re also interested in film, music, cabaret, and expanding the idea of what a live event can be.”
Though the organization has no physical home yet, Dreamplay — which is based on the writings of Carl Jung and the real-life saga of “sleepwalking killer” Scott Falater — will be staged this June, in “a site-specific outdoor residential area.” But the state of flux doesn’t bother Young, who says she learned from being at the Gang how much of a financial burden it can be to maintain a space for a prolonged period. “It can become an albatross. I‘m excited to be a little nomadic for a while and see what that’s like.”
It starts to get dark, and I attempt to wind our conversation down. But this is Young‘s production. “Wait, don’t you want to ask me about MedeaMacbethCinderella at the Yale Rep?” which she co-adapted and co-directed with Cornerstone‘s Bill Rauch. So I comply. “It’ll happen this fall. It‘s hard to get shows there — the whole refrain of ’the stuff in L.A. is subpar, it‘s not like the stuff in New York.’ So I‘m especially excited to take it there.” And then Young adds one last directorial note: “Please, I hope you won’t make this interview mostly about the Actors‘ Gang, because it really is in the past. My head’s really in the new thing I‘m starting and the work I’m doing this year, and beyond.” A foggy mist falls over the Hollywood sign, like a curtain. “You know, just look forward to the future.”
TRACY YOUNG, writer-director. High points: Hysteria (PEN West Finalist for play writing); Euphoria; Medea MacbethCinderella (co-directed with Bill Rauch).